This year is a big one for Mountain View. Between finalizing its next housing element, developing an economic vitality strategy, and helping residents recover both financially and emotionally from the pandemic, the city is juggling a lot right now.
Mayor Alison Hicks and City Manager Kimbra McCarthy offered updates on these topics and more during the city’s annual update held on March 31, which this year centered around the theme of “building community step by step.” Every seat was filled during the Friday morning event, which drew about 150 people to the Hyatt Centric hotel in the San Antonio Shopping Center. The Mountain View Chamber of Commerce hosted the event.
Here are a few of the top updates that city leaders shared on Friday.
Finding the money for Mountain View’s new public safety building
City officials have long acknowledged that Mountain View’s public safety building is in need of an overhaul. The structure, which opened more than 40 years ago, does not meet any seismic retrofit standards, McCarthy said at Friday’s event.
But this year’s intense rainy season has revealed other weak spots: The basement floor flooded several times in the last few months, McCarthy said.
“The irony is that our 911 call operation center is on the bottom floor basement, and our emergency operations center,” McCarthy said. “... It has been apparent for many, many years that the city needs to build a new public safety building.”
In addition to the 911 call center, the city’s police department operations, emergency dispatch and fire department administrative staff all operate out of this building. City staff are currently working to create a design proposal for a new public safety building.
“Currently, staff is anticipated to come back to council at the end of this year for the design plan and we’re hoping to go to bid in 2024,” McCarthy said. “And we’re hoping to start construction in 2025.”
But the cost estimate for such an undertaking has increased dramatically in the last two decades, McCarthy added. When talks of a new public safety building first came up 20 years ago, the city was looking at footing a roughly $40 million bill. Today, the cost is likely going to be upwards of $160 million, McCarthy said.
“What this means is that the city is going to be looking to our community’s help,” she said at the annual update event. “We’re going to likely need to do a revenue measure in 2024 to really help protect our public safety operations and expand this building.”
The mayor’s vision for a more sustainable ‘15-minute city’
The city is currently in the process of developing an economic vitality strategy, which is envisioned as a guiding document to encourage “livable, sustainable neighborhoods, access to nature and open spaces, and a strong innovation-driven local economy,” as Mountain View’s website puts it.
From Hicks’ perspective, many of those goals can be met by turning Mountain View into what she called a “15-minute city.”
“Fifteen-minute city is an increasingly popular concept that’s all about developing a city where people can get their routine needs – food, dentist, gathering places, et cetera – within a 15-minute walk or bike ride,” Hicks said at the Friday event.
To that end, Hicks said, the city’s consultant has conducted community meetings, focus groups and a survey to get input on the economic vitality strategy, “and we’ll bring that information back to council soon,” Hicks said.
Hicks tied the 15-minute city concept back to the city’s sustainability goals. Active transportation – meaning modes of transit like walking and biking – is an important way that cities are cutting their carbon footprints, Hicks said.
“Biking increases when it’s safer and there’s good routes all over town,” Hicks said. “Also, when we have bike lockers and bike repair stations. Walking increases when we have wide sidewalks shaded by trees, and places people can walk to do their routine errands.”
McCarthy said that last year, the city saw an 82% reduction in electricity-related emissions, nearly $800,000 in bill savings for Mountain View customers, and almost $80,000 in cash payments to customers who bought surplus solar energy.
Making downtown more vibrant
The city closed Castro Street to vehicle traffic during the pandemic, a pilot program that Hicks said was “one of the most popular things we’ve done since I’ve been on council.”
After being met with such praise by the community, the city is now going through the somewhat complicated legal process to turn Castro Street into an official pedestrian mall. That effort, which involves redesigning the street to meet state pedestrian mall standards, will happen in coordination with the city’s plans to create an underpass where the Caltrain tracks cross Castro Street, allowing cyclists and pedestrians to move freely under the tracks and make downtown more walkable.
In addition to these big changes, Hicks said the city has also heard the public loud and clear when it comes to requests like live music and public art in downtown and beyond.
“I assure you, that’s in the plans,” Hicks said.
The mayor added that the city is updating its historic preservation ordinance and register.
“In most cities that still have them, the historic core is one of the most lively public gathering spots,” Hicks said. “The human scale and gridded streets of historic city centers attract people to stroll and hang out. Mountain View’s Castro Street, which grew up when the railroad was put in in the 1860s, is no exception.”
Hicks said the city is considering how to incentivize the preservation of historic buildings and resources, again with the ultimate goal of making Mountain View a better place to live, work and play.